I know I’ve been behind on posting these but we’ve really been moving all the time recently. So here’s to playing catch-up!
Journal Entry 7 or, The Mountain of the Warrior Monks
Once upon a time, a temple was built on the top of Mt. Hiei, to protect Kyoto from evil spirits. For some reason, this new sect of Buddhism wasn’t quite as peaceful as most, and initiates did rigorous physical training like running up and down the mountain in straw sandals, meditating in the rain without much dinner, and sleeping for only an hour a day. No soldiers were allowed on temple grounds, but that’s okay because the temple trained its own soldiers- the “warrior monks.” We visited Enryaku-ji, the warrior monks’ temple, today.
Originally, there had been talk about climbing up the mountain, but when we arrived the group decided that it would be best to take a cable car (funicular) up instead, and anyone who was craving hiking could hike back down. Here’s the view from the top of the cable car track, if you squint you can see Kyoto down in the distance: (#) We hiked up to the temple (it was still a little trek from the cable car station, including some awkwardly spaced stairs) and held our class in a little corner of the temple grounds. I think that was probably the first time a Belmont class was held at a Buddhist temple!
There were a variety of other temples in the area, and I went to take pictures and ring a couple of big gongs during our free period. I particularly enjoyed the temples that showed signs of age: (#) and secluded, beautiful areas: (#) This one specifically is an example of one of our class keywords, syncretism. Syncretism is when two things that, in theory, shouldn’t go together, end up together and are just fine. The most common example we’ve been seeing is Buddhism and Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan. The Torii gate (wooden arch-thingy) in that picture is a sign of Shinto, yet it was only a few steps away from another Buddhist temple. Despite the fact that Shinto seems to worship everything (spirits in nature, spirits of ancestors, specific rituals involving clapping and bowing to shrines) and Buddhism doesn’t really worship much, many Japanese pick and choose from the two religions, births being celebrated at Shinto shrines and deaths at Buddhist temples.
Here’s another pretty temple. (#) After wandering around and finding a real rock garden (#) by the founder of Tendai Buddhism’s memorial, we began the hike down the mountain. It was interesting, to say the least, without a real path for most of the way down: (#). I have an old knee injury and it flared up during the trek, but luckily I had a bandage with me, wrapped my knee, and made it down. The hike was stunning, as most things here have been, with random unidentified spots to worship or meditate: (#). We took the train back to Otsu and I propped up my knee and rested for the remainder of the day.
Journal Entry 8: 10,000 Torii gates and Uji, the land of tea.
5/19 and 5/20
On 5/19, we visited Fushimi Inari Shrine, a Shinto site in southern Kyoto. This place is known for its’ 10,000 Torii gates, all right next to each other creating a huge tunnel. For an unknown reason, I didn’t take a picture of the gates, but here’s a photo from one of my friends: (#) Thanks Rainu! I was feeling under the weather thanks to my knee blowing out coming down the mountain the day before, so I didn’t hike the Torii gates’ path, leaving the group to go sit in this gorgeous, secluded woods: (#) and write in my journal. It was kind of a slow day for me, I bought some candy and went back to my room to do homework once we got back to Otsu. A group of us went to an arcade that evening, which was enjoyable, with a friend and I spending about ten dollars worth of yen on a Jurassic Park shooting game (he thoroughly beat me, earning about 500 points every time I earned 100, but I saved him from almost getting eaten by a t-rex!) and a dollar on a ridiculous kids’ game that had me jumping on a platform as if it was a pogo stick, guiding a cartoon bunny around a Mario-Kart esque track. All in all, not a bad way to spend an evening!
5/20 was spent in Uji, a part of town famous for its’ tea. It is also the site of a famous bridge where battles in the Genpei war took place: (#) After putting our feet in the Uji river (#) and looking at a statue of the author of the Tale of Genji (#) we ventured onward to Byodo-in, a temple we’d already been seeing all week: on the back of our 10-yen coins! It was pretty interesting and of course, very beautiful, as everything else has been. (#) and (#) don’t really capture its’ beauty. Being a huge, huge dork, I’d looked up the places in Japan that the towns from the game Pokemon are based off of, and it turns out that one of the plot points in Pokemon is centered around a bird statue on the top of a building, and that statue is based off the phoenixes in this temple. I loved the phoenix artwork and sculpture in the temple’s museum, but sadly I couldn’t take pictures. I’ve always thought phoenixes were cool (if a bit creepy, considering they’re reborn from their own ashes) and this was a beautiful temple.
After getting out of phoenix-land, we crossed the street into tea-land! Everything you can imagine with tea in it is served in Uji! The first thing we sampled was green tea ice cream with matcha powder on top, a far cry from the tea ceremonies we’d discussed in class with their refined sipping. The ice creams were quite tasty though! With the help of a translator from Switzerland, we went to another shop to sample green tea chocolates, candies, sweets and creams. They were fantastic. The next stop was a local artisan’s shop featuring beautiful fabric paintings (you thought I was going to say something tea-related!) where many people found gifts for friends. I was reminded of the batik projects we did in middle school, that’s not to say these pieces looked like they were done by 10 year olds, just saying the more traditional styles of art reminded me that I’d been exposed to some facets of this culture long ago.
The day was topped off by an adventure to Otsu-Kyo, the older side of Otsu, to try and recover my friend Kyle’s lost rail pass. Unfortunately, it was nowhere to be found, but we found a lot of evidence of just how polite and helpful Japanese policemen really are. Two of them accompanied us back to the train station (after we visited their Koban, the police boxes that are on pretty much every corner here) to help translate and fill out forms with the rail office. We also passed a store called Liquor Mountain, which should entertain both my alcohol -and Internet- savvy friends: surely some of you remember that video with the unicorns saying “It’s candy mountain, Charlie, caaaaaandy mounnntain!” So of course, many “liquor mountain” jokes were made as we walked by. We were more interested in the used game and collectable store across the street, though, because my friends were able to find some rare Dragonball Z toys and some Nintendo 64 games in Japanese. If only we had found Kyle’s rail pass, it would have been a perfect day….